Ninety Years of Black Licorice in Cincinnati

Long before Twizzlers reigned supreme, black licorice, was the favored flavor.        Now black licorice is polarizing – you either love it or you hate it.    The Red Raspberry flavored variety is what kids today know as licorice.   The Queen City can boast of a company that manufactured black licorice candy for nearly 90 years and were known nationally.     Today the majority of licorice confections use anise oil for flavor, but back in the day the John Mueller Licorice Company used real Spanish licorice.   That’s probably why those who tasted Mueller’s black licorice miss it so much.   Unfortunately, none of the three buildings where they manufactured the candy are standing today, so all that’s left are memories.
The company was founded in 1885 by John Mueller.  John was son of 1848’er, Andrew Mueller, and immigrant from Anweiler, near Alsace Lorraine, who came to Cincinnati in 1848 to escape the failed Revolution in the German states.    John’s  birth in 1865 on Christmas day  one of the largest days for the candy industry, foreshadowed his career.
John grew up on his father’s farm in an area then known as Turkey Bottoms, which is now the area of Lunken Airport.     After finishing his schooling at age 15 in Cincinnati, he worked at the Goode Candy Company for five years, learning the candy trade from German immigrant candy baron, George Wilhelm Goode who had partnered with a Louis McNamara a few years before.
Being an entrepreneurial young man, John decided to leave Herr Goode in 1885 and began manufacturing candy for himself.   In 1901 he, with several other investors, incorporated the John Mueller Licorice Company, focusing on the manufacture of black licorice confections.   It’s not known where he learned how to make black licorice candy, or why he decided to focus on it, but Mueller created a profitable national niche for his company in the candy industry.  For those of us who love black licorice, what a treat it must have been to live near the Mueller factory and smell the black licorice being boiled into candy
One of the first brands Mueller trademarked was Neldynes, which was registered with the U. S. Trademark and Patents office in 1905.     Neldynes, crowned King of all licorice candy, was guaranteed not to stick together in summer.
The company’s first location was at 2117 Reading road in Mt. Auburn.  When they outgrew that location, they moved to a location at Wade and Freeman Streets in Cincinnati’s West End.
Mueller’s sold through the jobber network to retailers all over the country.   And to get the word out, Mueller was a dedicated marketeer, running wonderfully descriptive ads in the Confectioner’s Journal in the 1920s.      By 1922, they led the candy industry with candy cigars and Famous brand black licorice candy  cigarettes, a line which they would carry into the 1980s.    Other candy manufactures followed and introduced lines of candy cigarettes by the 1930s.    Back then it wasn’t the health concern it became, so the American public didn’t bat an eye at allowing children to pretend to smoke these candy imitations.   Slogans encouraging kids to smoke, “Just Like Dad”, would cause trouble in the 1950s, when the first reports of smoking’s health hazards surfaced.     Early brands modeled after the real cigarettes.    Marlboro became Marboro, Winston became Winstun, Camel became Acmel in the candy brands.     Although National legislation was proposed in 1970 and 1991 to ban the sale of candy cigarettes, the only state to outlaw them was North Dakota, from 1953-1967.    The word cigarette disappeared from all national candy cigarette brands and was replaced by ‘candy sticks.”
By the 1930s U.S. Industry was importing some 35,000 tons of licorice root per year, for flavoring tobacco, pharmaceuticals, and candy.
By 1922, Mueller  had been around for nearly 30 years, and employed 30 people in his factory.   They played to their legacy with slogans like “made famous and kept famous by two generations.”      Not only did they produce the loops and whips of black licorice, but they had a full line of innovative licorice candies, like a candy train set with licorice tracks, a licorice wristwatch, and even a huge oblong shaped hunk of black licorice they called the XLCR.
In 1922 they had the following candy lineup:
Neldynes,  XLCR,  Famous brand candy cigarettes, banded candy cigars, whoppers, twisters, wrist watch, train assortment, whips , 120 tubes, 120 Famous stick busters, chocomels (a unique type of chocolate-black licorice- caramel that sounded amazing!!) , Big 4,  bricks , lozenges, plugs, trio tubes, travelers companion, and 240 tubes.
In their ads, Mueller played to the health and safety of their workers:
“All our goods are manufactured in an updated, sanitary plant where sunlight and fresh air contribute to the health and happiness of all workers.”
Their West End plant was flooded in the 1937 flood, but they cleaned up and continued manufacturing after the waters subsided.
The house that black licorice built – the Mueller red brick family homestead at 1722 Queen City Avenue, on the West Side of Cincinnati in Fairmount, is still standing.  John Mueller exhibited the traits of a true candy baron.    He volunteered as Treasurer for his church, the German Emmanuel Church on the corner of Tremont and Lawnway in Fairmount for twenty three years and supported the local Republican partly    He was active in the Candy Jobbing Confectioners’ Association, the Candy Salesman’s Association  and the Travelers’ Protective Association.
The John Mueller family homestead at 1722 Queen City Avenue in Fairmount.
Having only one daughter, Nelda Mae, with his wife Elizabeth Dennert, he had no sons to pass on his business.   So, in 1920, only a few years before his death, Mueller sold his business to Walter H. Pritz, a Jewish entrepreneur who had been president of the company, for $66,000.    Pritz  ran the company until his death in 1950.  At that time, Mueller was said to be only one of four manufacturers of black licorice candy in the world, all of whom were in the U.S.   They were American Licorice, founded in 1914 in Chicago; National Licorice, founded in 1848 in Brooklyn, New York; and the Switzer Company, founded 1887 in St. Louis, Missouri.
Pritz introduced black licorice mixes in the 1940s, like Miami Mix, Lucky 7, and the Fair-N-Warmer mix.   He also continued the line of black licorice cigarettes with a brand called Domino.   One of his candy makers, Edward Schoettle patented a black licorice cigar  candy in 1940 for the company.    Schoettle would take over the company after Pritz’ death in 1950 and move the company to Norwood in the early 1950s.
The new plant was a Teamster’s Union-run factory at 2011  Ross Avenue in Norwood, just north of downtown Cincinnati.  The area is now inhabited by the newly built Paycor and the Urology Center facilities on the Norwood Lateral.  Here the company continued introducing new lines of black licorice candy until they went out of business in 1973.   In 1965, they introduced their Space Age candy cigarettes, and in 1970, trademarked a new candy called Kettle Treats.   They also introduced trading cards with their candy in the 1950s.     For all their years in Cincinnati, the John Mueller Licorice Company was a leader in the U.S. black licorice confection market, and an under-known sweet asset to our city.